Minnesota Lawyer’s Attorneys of the Year
A team of three Legal Aid attorneys (Staff Attorneys Rebecca Stillman and Anne Robertson and Litigation Director Justin Perl) and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys (Ann Bildstein and Bahram Samie) were selected for Minnesota Lawyer’s Attorneys of the Year Award. An outside panel of judges selected honorees based on leadership in the profession, a successful result for a client, and excellence in public service.
The team secured justice for 23 women by putting an end to their landlord’s discriminatory and predatory sexual harassment practices over many years. The landlord created a severe and pervasive environment of sexual harassment for female tenants and single African American women in particular. Harassment included repeated propositions, unwanted touch, and inappropriate comments, questions, and requests. He claimed fictitious charges such as higher rent or late fees and told the tenants they could “work it out” by providing sexual favors. Those who did not “work it out” faced additional fees or eviction. To stop these practices, the Legal Aid team filed suit for violating the Fair Housing Act and their clients’ civil rights.
Through a tenacious discovery process, Legal Aid discovered more victims and turned their cases over to the Department of Justice. The DOJ opened an investigation and filed an action. The landlord and other defendants entered a consent decree (settlement without admission of guilt) that applies to 30 defendant-owned properties and future properties they acquire. The landlord is out of the property management business. He is prohibited from any property management responsibilities or ever entering his properties again. Defendants are required to hire an independent property manager and to pay $736,000 to the victims of the landlord, plus a $13,000 civil penalty and $140,000 in attorney fees to Legal Aid.
“We are incredibly proud of our team for their success in this case,” says Deputy Director Micaela Schuneman. “The positive outcome shows the power of forming a trusting relationship with clients and listening to their concerns. The team was dedicated in their pursuit of a just result for the clients and the broader renter community. The team truly earned and deserves the honor of being recognized as Attorneys of the Year.”
Bernard P. Becker Law Student Volunteer Award
The Bernard P. Becker Law Student Volunteer Award is presented to a law student who has demonstrated a commitment to the provision of legal services to low-income and disadvantaged persons. This year’s award recognizes Ashley Meeder, a 3L at the University of Minnesota Law School. Meeder performed over 400 hours of full-time service with MMLA’s Minneapolis housing unit as a Minnesota Justice Foundation law clerk during the summer of 2020 and volunteered over 200 additional hours.
Meeder advocated for low-income tenants in eviction proceedings. She drafted rent escrow affidavits demanding repairs and rent abatement, and motions to expunge tenants’ past eviction records. She provided direct client representation in one case, identifying defects in the landlord’s case, drafting the motion, and preparing oral arguments. Her efforts allowed MMLA to successfully resolve the case and allowed the client to keep her housing.
“In her time with Legal Aid, Ashley welcomed all assignments,” says her supervisor, Staff Attorney Evan Gelles. “She asked thoughtful questions to dig into complex legal issues and produced high-quality writing. Ashley coupled the skills she learned during law school with her unique blend of compassion and critical thinking. The result is an incredible advocate who helped our clients stay safely housed during a global pandemic.”
Bernard P. Becker “Emerging Leader” Award
J. Singleton, Program Manager of Legal Services State Support, a project of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, is the recipient of the 2021 Emerging Leader Award. Emerging Leaders are attorneys with up to 10 years of cumulative legal aid service and a record of outstanding service and/or extraordinary accomplishments in the field.
Singleton, who began her career at State Support as the Legal Technology Projects Manager, is an outstanding technology innovator in addition to being an excellent attorney. Her leadership and tech skills contributed to the development of the Legal Organizations Online Network (LOON), and the redesign of LawHelpMN.org. Singleton led State Support through the transition to work from home, and as the need for on-line resources exploded, she coordinated the work of outside contractors to create 300 document translations and 10 new videos for the LawHelpMN site. She strengthens partnerships with community groups and keeps projects moving forward, tracking outcomes through the pandemic.
“J. is a calm, organized, and dedicated leader,” says Deputy Director Lisa Cohen. “She’s also a self-starter who readily takes on new challenges. She has always stepped in where State Support needs her most, finding innovative ways to best serve legal aid clients throughout Minnesota. She willingly accepts increasing responsibility, constantly learning and growing as a leader.”
The Arc Minnesota’s Mission Leader of the Year, Organization
The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), the legislative advocacy branch of MMLA, was presented with The Arc Minnesota’s Mission Leader of the Year Award for an organization. This award focuses on an organization that makes a difference for individuals with disabilities and their families through work in public policy, legal, or systems change arenas.
“LSAP team members – most notably, Staff Attorney Maren Hulden – have been critical allies in advancing our mission through legislative advocacy,” says The Arc Minnesota’s Chief Program Officer Alicia Munson. “Shared legislative priorities in 2021 included systems transformation, recovery education, inclusive childcare, and more. None of these would have passed without Maren’s meaningful partnership, effective lobbying, and tireless advocacy.”
“We are proud to work with The Arc Minnesota,” says Supervising Attorney Ron Elwood. “We learn so much from them about advancing human rights and disability justice and centering the lived experience of people who have disabilities. Maren brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her work along with a strong collaborative ethic. She aligned closely with our disability advocacy partners to strengthen Legal Aid and LSAP’s work at the Capitol, advocating for pressing policy changes that will have a positive impact on children and adults who have disabilities across Minnesota.”